Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 63

readingsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Is the self-help literature necessary? For what?

Life-and-death thought experiments are correctly unsolvable (and they are not about what you think they’re about).

The rise and fall of European meritocracy (and the rise of populism, not only in Europe).

Is your digital life ready for your death?

Very good analysis of why we need tenure-like provisions for more people, not just academics.

How statistics lost their power, and why this is really bad news for liberal democracy.

What does post-truth mean for a philosopher?

55 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 63

  1. brodix


    “What on earth has punctuated equilibrium got to do with anything?”

    The narrative is breaking down. That the “public,” i.e. acceptable expectations of what the future is supposed to be, based on prior projections, is not working out how it is “supposed to.”

    Another example of this status quo, versus underlaying dynamic, would be the observation about how progress in science is “one funeral at a time.”

    We build up these stable models in our minds and they become reality. Anomalies are ignored and swept under the rug, until a hole rots in the floor.

    As I observed in a previous thread, the flaw in the concept of “punctuated equilibrium” is the equilibrium stage isn’t static, but a situation where life is seeking efficiency, which naturally results in specialization and complexity, but that makes the larger system more susceptible to shocks breaking it down, as all those specialized components are not overly flexible. Thus the cycle between building up and breaking down.

    The dichotomy is between energy and order. Order necessarily being static, because it is stable. While the energy propels the process forward, it is both building out these systems and testing their vulnerabilities.

    So it is not a post truth world, it is a broken narrative world.

    Obviously the flaw in the current world model being the economic circulation system being used to drain value out of the system, rather than circulate it for the benefit of the entire system.


  2. brodix

    As for the Baggini piece, good and bad are the biological binary code, not some cosmic dual between righteousness and evil. So we often have to make binary decisions in a complex world.

    The consequence is that we have evolved such complex decision making processes, i.e. a mind.


  3. Massimo Post author


    That’s what I thought, nothing to do with the actual theory of punctuated equilibria. Oh, and life doesn’t seek efficiency, it only “seeks” to be alive.


  4. brodix


    Do you really not see any way that punctuated equilibrium might apply to societies, as well as ecosystems?
    What was it, before Trump and Brexit, if not some sense of equilibrium, that was certainly disrupted, if not fully punctuated?

    As for efficiencies, complex societies certainly evolved to apply the efficiency of specialized jobs, so we all were not having to stitch our own clothes and grow our own food, so why wouldn’t complex organisms have arisen because it is more efficient for cells to have specialized functions, in a larger organism? Is there some other reason life would have evolved beyond the single celled stage? Intelligent design?


  5. Massimo Post author


    No, I don’t. Punctuated equilibrium is a specific theory within paleontology, it doesn’t apply to anything else. You may see superficially similar patterns in, say, societies. But since they are the result of completely different mechanisms, the use of the terms is inappropriate, if not down right nonsensical.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. brodix


    Was every example of punctuated equilibrium in paleontology due to the exact same mechanism?

    Or were there varieties of ways complex ecosystems broke down?


  7. wtc48

    On statistics: “During the presidential election campaign, Cambridge Analytica drew on various data sources to develop psychological profiles of millions of Americans, which it then used to help Trump target voters with tailored messaging.”

    Combined with wholesale use of Twitter, it worked. Politics has caught up with 21st century marketing. The predators have a new tool; maybe the sheep will evolve a defense. Amazon hasn’t made literature obsolete, so let’s hope big data doesn’t bring that fate on to statesmanship.


  8. Sherlock

    Massimo said:
    *Punctuated equilibrium is a specific theory within paleontology, it doesn’t apply to anything else. *

    “Letting off a bit steam” has a specific meaning in its original reference to steam engines. Likewise “blowing a fuse” and “getting your wires crossed” re. electricity. Metaphors are created by taking the pattern of relationships out of one context and putting it into a different one. Punctuated equilibrium may or may not be a useful metaphor when applied to perceived seismic changes in society after a long period of apparant stability, but I don’t see why it should be off-limits.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. brodix


    Compartmentalization has its uses, but sometimes the distinctions are stronger by not being too rigid.


  10. ejwinner

    You’re quite right about metaphor; but it’s frequently unclear that brodix is engaging in metaphor. He seems to have a whole metaphysics worked out (blending Heraclitus and Yin-Yang from the East) that he sometimes seems to super-impose over actual physics (and occasionally biology as well), and this doesn’t work very well, especially with readers familiar with actual physics and biology.

    Personally, I think this unfortunate, because brodix actually understands current socio-economic issues pretty well, and occasionally has real insight to share on the problem of capitalist class structures. But then we’re off to metaphysics again, and consequently the insights get lost. (I hope brodix takes this in the right spirit; if I just wanted to wave him away, I would.)

    While I’m here, I just wanted to re-enforce what Dan had to say about both the et6hical thought experiment piece and the ‘self-help’ piece.

    I remember that when the ‘trolley problem’ was brought up at Sci Sal, I remarked that, given my own back-ground, the obvious choice would be for me to throw myself in front of the trolley, and Massimo pointed out that this choice was specifically excluded in the problem. This led me to consider the problem a waste of time, since it was in the nature of reductio binary dilemmas that rarely occur in reality, even in the most extreme circumstances. The art of being human is the art of learning and negotiating a wide range of choices and finding explanations for them (usually after the fact).

    As for ‘self-actualization’ – I don’t want Self actualized, I want it to go away! I want ‘I’ to be a coat to put on in public. disposable with meditation and right thought.

    All those pretty ‘selves’ looking in the ‘actualization’ mirror – don’t they all just blend together? Where is the ‘Self’ in being a ‘Self’ like all other ‘actualized’ ‘Selves’? None conform so much as those attempting unique ‘Selves.’ The internet is filled with them, all sounding the same, all looking alike.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. SocraticGadfly

    Off topic, to a fair degree, but perhaps vaguely related to ideas of self —

    You may have heard of those one-way mirrored glass public restrooms. And, are still unsure about their reality. Well, they do exist, including at my latest stop on the peregrinating journalist (until I can get out of this damned career) path. The relation to self? One … the symbolism of a hidden self. Two, more literally … what would you do inside one?

    Glass bathrooms-inside


  12. brodix


    People around here are more tolerant than most, so I can’t complain too much.
    That said, I do think there are deeper patterns throughout reality and my sense is that sometimes academia is like the old Indian proverb about the blind men describing an elephant. When concepts get so compartmentalized no deeper patterns need apply, it leaves them hollow and shallow, not integrated into a larger reality. Interdisciplinary is not a bad word.
    Hey, I could well be wrong, but I like to put ideas out there and see what responses they draw. If someone has something to add, or subtract, it’s educational. Even when it’s a putdown, it gives me some sense of where other people are at.
    As you say, even some of the ideas most people take most for granted, such as the idea of the self, are pretty fuzzy when looked at too closely. I’m just not sure some of the other ideas out there, that are taken for granted, might not use a little more analysis as well. Unfortunately those entrusted to study particular aspects of reality are most set in the frames they were molded into by those who preceded them.
    Think economists. Could it be other fields have maps somewhat divorced from the actual territory?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. brodix

    Does your self end at the surface of your eyeballs, or is what flows through them part of you as well?
    If so, where do you end and others/everything else begin?


  14. brodix


    Do you ever get that sense of seeing through someone else’s personality?

    When the empathy gets a little too deep and you have to swim to shore.


  15. brodix


    Your light? Like in we are what we eat, we are what we see?

    We are what we think? We are what we feel?

    There is definitely a sorting process going on, between what gets let in and what gets rejected. Just ask Trump.

    Of course, a lot of people are rejecting Trump.

    Various people here reject my comments, though some consider them.

    Then we pass the results of our sorting onto others, as knowledge.

    We are still part of a larger world.


  16. wtc48

    ejwinner: “As for ‘self-actualization’ – I don’t want Self actualized, I want it to go away! I want ‘I’ to be a coat to put on in public. disposable with meditation and right thought.”

    I agree, but I also like the core idea of the human potential movement, in a way; I think we’re all BMWs that see ourselves as beatup Beetles.

    I also concur on Brodix’s off-the-wall insights, being mostly insight-driven myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. brodix

    Even a moving car doesn’t have an exact location, or it wouldn’t be moving. You can find its momentum though, by looking at the speedometer.


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